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Joel Embiid: 76ers made mistake of letting Jimmy Butler go to accommodate Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons reportedly no longer wants to play with 76ers star Joel Embiid. In fact, Simmons is holding out until Philadelphia trades him to a team that builds its offense around him.

Embiid, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

I feel like over the years the way our team has been built around — like you look at last year, I was the worst three-point shooter of the starting lineup and I shot 38 percent from three.

“We’ve always had shooters, and I feel like I can really play with anybody and I can make anybody be better on the court. I don’t necessarily need shooters. But I feel like over the years — like you look at when we got Al (Horford), it’s because we needed a stretch five, just to make sure that was for him. And most of my career I’ve had to kind of step out to the three-point line quite a bit — which I don’t mind. I like to be a basketball player; I like to do everything on the basketball court. But I feel like our teams have been built — whether it’s the shooting, the stretch five and all that stuff — I feel like he’s always had it here.”

“It was kind of surprising to see what was said,” Embiid continued. “Even going back to the reason we signed Al. We got rid of Jimmy (Butler), which I still think was a mistake, but he needed the ball in his hands and that’s the decision they made. But, like I said, it is surprising. But I’m really focused on the guys that are here.

“The situation is weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for their lives. Some guys rely on the team to be successful, to stay in the league and make money somehow. Because, if you’re on a winning team, you’re always going to have a spot in the league, just because you’re on a winning team and you contributed. Obviously we’re a better team with him. We’re not a better team without him, that’s for sure. We are a better team with him but, like I said, it is surprising. But I’m focused on the guys that are here.

This is certainly a different tone than the one Embiid struck recently, seemingly as part of the 76ers’ bid to
coax Simmons back.

Embiid has made no secret over the years of wishing Philadelphia kept Jimmy Butler. Butler is a darned good player. Al Horford didn’t work out in Philadelphia.

But Butler also didn’t provide enough outside shooting to optimally spread the floor around Simmons. Butler also commandeered Philadelphia’s offense, especially in crunch time – a role Simmons at least ostensibly wanted.

The 76ers have done a better job lately of surrounding Simmons with shooting – Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris at power forward rather than small forward.

But as much as Embiid is hyping his own shooting, he previously said he doesn’t like shooting 3-pointers. Though he’s more than capable from beyond the arc, he’s a bigger force closer to the basket – where Simmons and he step on each other’s toes. Philadelphia couldn’t even simply stagger Simmons and Embiid last season, because backup center Dwight Howard was a complete non-shooter.

Even the improved spacing with the starting lineup wasn’t been quite enough to get the most from Simmons.

Which reveals his biggest flaw: He’s too dependent on team context. He needs everything just right. That makes it hard for his team to build around him.

But he can also be excellent when in the right situation. His defense is sharp, and his ability to get his team in transition and pass is superb. Plenty of teams would do well to build around him.

The 76ers are better off building around Embiid. And for what it’s worth, he did plenty to help make Simmons more comfortable. Simmons didn’t reciprocate – and Embiid noticed.

With Simmons absent and not helping at all, Embiid sounds more fed up with his (former?) co-star than ever.